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Apr 8, 2020Print this page

COVID-19 Testing: How to Collect a Nasopharyngeal Swab Specimen

Nasal Swab

When conducting diagnostic testing for COVID-19, CDC recommends nasopharyngeal swabbing. The specimen should be collected as soon as possible once PUIs are identified, no matter when they become symptomatic.

If you’ve conducted flu tests, swabbing for COVID-19 testing is essentially the same process. This how-to video quickly walks you through the standard protocol. Feel free to share it with healthcare workers who would appreciate a quick refresher.

7 Steps for Taking a Nasopharyngeal Swab Specimen

  1. Wash hands and wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
  2. Aseptically remove sterile swab from package.
  3. Tilt patient’s head back slightly to straighten nasal passage.
  4. Insert swab straight back horizontally to the nasopharynx until resistance is met.
  5. Rotate swab up to 5 times and hold in place 5-10 seconds to collect sample.
  6. Place swab into the viral transport medium and break off handle where indicated.
  7. Cap tightly, label with patient information and deliver to lab for testing.

 We recommend using our UniTranz-RT® Transport System and PurFlock Ultra® swab for COVID-19 testing. 

Here’s a current list of FDA-approved swabs and transport media for COVID-19 testing. You’ll also find alternative transport media if universal transport media is unavailable. Important Note: The CDC does not recommend using calcium alginate swabs or those with wooden shafts because they contain substances that cause inaccurate test results.

Alternatives to Nasopharyngeal Collection

The FDA has listed the following options if you can’t collect a nasopharyngeal specimen:

  • An oropharyngeal specimen collected by a healthcare professional (HCP)
  • A mid-turbinate specimen collected onsite by patient or HCP using a flocked tapered swab
  • An anterior nares specimen collected onsite by patient or HCP using a round foam swab

Related CDC Resources

Since the COVID-19 outbreak changes rapidly, here is where you’ll find the latest CDC information on testing:

To find additional tips and helpful information be sure to visit the Puritan COVID 19 resource portal. Questions on how to swab for COVID-19? Give us a call or send us an email and we’ll respond as quickly as we possibly can.  

Thank you all you’re doing to save lives. And stay safe out there.


Topics: Flocked Swabs, Medical, Diagnostics, Specimen Collection Procedure, COVID-19


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